The launch of Hearthstone on Android devices finally convinced me to dive into mobile gaming, something I have almost completely avoided these past few years while waiting for the platform to mature and produce a more robust selection of quality titles. While Blizzard's free-to-play card battle game give me plenty of hope, most of my other experiences this past month have left me underwhelmed.
I'll admit it, I'm a grumpy old man when it comes to many modern trends in gaming. When I hear people say that mobile gaming is taking over, my reaction is usually akin to shaking my fist at the heavens while screaming at the neighborhood kids to stay off of my lawn. I admit that these judgments on mobile gaming were almost completely unfounded, as I had barely played anything made for the mobile market outside of Angry Birds, Cut the Rope, Doodle Jump and a handful of others.
Put simply, I assumed that turning to mobile gaming meant turning to an inferior product. I couldn't fathom why anyone would spend their game time poking away at a smartphone when they could be booting up a console or a portable gaming system in order to enjoy fully fleshed out games with, you know, buttons and thumbsticks and stuff.
Earlier this year, I finally picked up a nice Android tablet, spurred on by the fact that I wanted to finally make the jump to digital comics and, I thought, finally give mobile gaming a try. I had downloaded titles like Clash of Clans onto my phone in the past, only to delete them a few days later without ever having tried them out. It occurred to me that I genuinely did not want to play those games, at least not on a tiny screen.
I had made the promise to myself almost a year ago, when Hearthstone released for iOS and PC, that I'd finally give the game a spin when it launched for mobile devices. This was partially a self-imposed safety mechanism, as I have a tenancy to devour collectable card games in the physical world. Since I couldn't play it on my phone and I can't see my home computer as anything more than a work contraption, I was safe from the madness of Hearthstone for the time being.
When I finally got my tablet back in November and Blizzard was talking about having Hearthstone ready to roll on Android by year's end, however, i finally decided to give this whole mobile gaming business a legitimate go. I figured, at this point, there had to be plenty of great games to choose from.
I would argue that my assumption was accurate, but not in the way I was hoping. I spent days perusing the Google Play store looking for exciting games and I certainly found what appeared to be a fair share of them. The problem was the fact that I had already played most of those games, with controllers, on other platforms. The other thing that caught my eye were some highly rated board games, which I also own or frequently play here in meat space. Again, that's all well and good if you're looking to dive into mobile gaming exclusively, but I was on the lookout for games I couldn't experience anywhere else.
One of the biggest hindrances there is a huge problem with that rating system I had been relying on up to this point. As I read more and more reviews, I discovered that the section was being treated as little more than a message board, with five-star “reviews” consisting of comments like “Hey, I can't load the multiplayer maps after the new update. Could you guys fix that?” or one-star reviews full of deep analysis such as “Nerds!”
I quickly discovered that the majority of great games were under the for-pay tab which, sadly, doesn't seem to get nearly the play as free-to-play market. The reasons for this are obvious, but it makes me worry about the future of the platform when, clearly, the vast majority of mobile gamers are sticking to the free-to-play side of the tracks. That means more developers will spend their resources cranking out new f2p titles which are, for the most part, utterly abysmal.
If one half-successful game pops up, 47 clones appear within a matter of weeks. Even after downloading some of the most highly rated and frequently recommended free-to-play titles, I was greeted with some of the grossest monetization structures and gameplay that ranges from lackluster to utterly braindead. I don't mean to insult folks who enjoy these types of games but, personally, I don't find any enjoyment tapping to earn coins or setting up an army of evolving monsters and watching them auto-battle. I could write a whole extra column on the various ways my trip into F2P-Land disgusted me, or I could just point you to that recent episode of South Park that does a far better job of highlighting the key points in a far more entertaining fashion.
All I can say is, thank god for Hearthstone. I realize I'm super late to the party on this one, but holy cow is that an entertaining game. I find two factors set it apart from the rest of the free-to-play fare I've experienced this past month. For starters, it's a real-ass game. I played a ton of games claiming to be CCG's these past several weeks, none of which included player interaction that felt like I was actually playing a game. Having spent a number of years with games like Magic: The Gathering, none of the mobile games I played before Hearthstone even came close to scratching that CCG itch.
Secondly, Hearthstone is an example of free-to-play done right. The core game offers loads of content at no cost to the player, with ways to earn pretty much everything in the game by simply playing it. But here's the kicker: I've enjoyed Hearthstone so much that I actually want to spend money on the game and, you know, throw some compensation toward a group of developers who have shown a great deal of respect to my time and intelligence. It's a formula that's hopefully working out well for Blizzard, giving gamers something that's worth playing rather than trying to trick them into spending money on inconsequential crap and lackluster experiences.
In short, mobile gaming hasn't matured as much as I had hoped in the past half-decade or so, but games like Hearthstone give me hope for a brighter tomorrow. It's proven that quality games are available on the platform, so long as I'm willing to look carefully and be patient. That being said, I'm absolutely open to suggestions. If you have a favorite mobile game, I'd be thankful for a recommendation. I'm nowhere near ready to put down the controller or stop playing my Vita, but I'd like to keep giving mobile a chance to surprise me.